Nielsen Ratings Prove Telenovelas Can Deliver

For years, telenovelas flourished in obscurity—below the radar of most non-Hispanic viewers and one big TV-ratings firm.

That began to change in a big way last week. Nielsen Media Research issued its first national television ratings to include Spanish-language Univision alongside the English-language networks.

The ratings revealed what virtually every Hispanic has long known: Novelas generate big ratings, thus explaining their presence on Univision, Telemundo and other Hispanic outlets.

Univision ranked fifth among broadcast networks for the week ended Jan. 1, attracting 3.4 million viewers and generating a 1.4 rating in adults 18-49. In that demo, the network outperformed UPN and The WB.

“We did even better when looking at 18-34s because we have a young audience,” observes Ceril Shagrin, senior VP of corporate research at Uni­vision. “When we look at tracking of the highest-rated novelas since 1992, four of the top five were on last year. It’s a genre that is not going away.”

Among 18-49s, most episodes of Univision novelas such as Contra Viento y Marea and Alborada ranked in the range from No. 53 (with a 2.1 rating) to No. 82 (with a 1.6). That’s out of 153 programs, putting those telenovelas in the same league as ABC’s Boston Legal, NBC’s Crossing Jordan and Fox’s Bones.

It should be noted Univision’s novelas were original episodes. During the holiday week, broadcast competitors mainly aired repeats.

Teddy Hayes, VP of media services at Los Angeles-based La Agencia de Orci, says the enduring popularity of novelas suggests that Univision—and, soon, Telemundo, which will be included starting next month—are competitive.

“It’s definitely family viewing time,” Hayes says. “Even bilingual Hispanics who are more acculturated will go back and watch novelas because they like the format.”

Nielsen began measuring Univision in its general-market survey as a first step toward creating a single national sample for all broadcast networks. Nielsen is currently increasing its sample from 5,000 homes to 10,000, at which point 1,000 Hispanic homes will be measured, comparable to the size of its separate Spanish-language service, National Hispanic Television Index (NHTI).

A date is not yet set for TeleFutura or Azteca to be measured by Nielsen, although both will be included no later than first quarter 2007, when Nielsen expects to discontinue NHTI.

“One of the key things about this change is that it puts Spanish-language media on the radar screen, from a general-market planning standpoint,” says Hayes. “By including [these networks], it will bring Univision and Telemundo into the planning mix.”